Walking In The Light
From time to time, I think we all have an argument within ourselves where we question the value of what we’re doing right now, worshiping. Week in and week out, we dutifully come into this sanctuary, participate in the prayers, hear God’s Word of forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, receive the sacrament, share our money for the sake of God’s mission and a host of other actions that have become the way we express our faith in faithfulness to our God. But, let’s be honest, we’ve all had our moments of wondering if any of it matters.
When I was in high school, I remember that rebellious side of me that questioned all these rules, all this “church” stuff. God is everywhere, so I can worship God anywhere. God doesn’t care for ritual, traditions or rules; God cares about the attitude and disposition of our heart — that we love righteousness, do justice and walk in communion and fellowship with God. The church, I reasoned, seemed about rules — do this and do that -- and money — give for this and to that. It seemed to me that Jesus was all about breaking out of the rules, about love and acceptance and grace and mercy. Didn't Jesus save his harshest words for the religious folk? And so on and so on. You know it. It's all in the Bible, and we've all wondered.
Yet, this story from Luke’s Gospel is all about observant, devout and deeply religious, righteous people. It begins with Joseph and Mary coming to the temple to present the sacrifice required for Mary’s purification after child birth. It’s religious ritual and tradition foreign to us, and it takes a little bit of study and questioning for us to even get close to understanding it. Animal sacrifice, purification after childbirth, redeeming the first born, the entire temple institution. Why? Does God really care? Does it make a difference?
Yet, as this family goes about the devout business of their piety, practicing their religion, God surprises them. Out of the blue, this old guy named Simeon, grabs the child, rejoicing that he has seen the “light of the world,” God’s promised Messiah, the savior and redeemer of the world. Then this older woman comes forward, praising God for God's salvation. Imagine this scene in your mind — a devout young family with six-week-old baby making their way through this vast temple courtyard, making sure they get things right. The man Simeon and the venerable Anna, who lives in the temple courts — homeless and old and praying and hoping and waiting for the coming of the God’s Christ. Simeon and Anna and Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the middle.
Now, think of all the individual story lines God is pulling together at this moment, in this place. God has promised Simeon that he would see the Messiah. He does. He sees the Messiah because Mary and Joseph come to the temple simply to do what’s required of them. They are not there to witness or tell everyone — “Look, our baby it God’s gift to the world.” Yet, their dutiful fulfillment of the law fulfills the faith and hope and years of devotion for Simeon and Anna. And think of Simeon and Anna. Their devotion and service to God, their communion and fellowship at the expense of everything else -- in any age or any time these two are weird and probably a little scary -- give us an early witness to God’s salvation through Jesus. God's salvation will come bursting right out and through the God’s enduring agreement and promise to God’s people Israel. This temple matters, the rituals matter, the worship, the prayer, the song, the giving and serving. It matters because God has promised to work in, with and under these signs. Jesus is the start of God’s new thing, but he emerges from and as fulfillment to the agreement God has promised and is now accomplishing.
Our traditions, our rituals, our religious devotions came into existence for a reason, yet it may be impossible to discover what that reason is unless we practice, unless we walk in the light. We cannot argue or convince one another by persuasive means that worship, study, prayer and so on will change or transform their life or the world around us. We have to worship, to observe, to keep, to seek, then we’ll discover Christ for us in word and water; bread and wine and the holy community. Because God's new life comes to us as promise and for a promise to be a gift, a grace, a blessing, we have to believe and trust that one who made the promise is as good as His word. Christ has promised to meet you here, to take away your sins and to give you his risen and eternal life. He has welcomed you to eat and drink and abide in an eternal fellowship with him. It is a promise, but unless you eat and drink, you cannot know it; unless you get up and leave your house, you cannot taste it. Unless we walk in the light, we remain in our darkness.
I have to admit, sometimes it seems like this is much time and effort for nothing. Some days it feels like we’re just going through the motions. But then, the Holy Spirit pulls us in, leads us here. Christ is revealed, right here, with us and for us, and we come alive again! Walking in the light. And who knows who God is leading this way, just for this reason, that she or he might find Christ, just as a God has promised. Amen.
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